ABC News’ Bret Hovell, Jennifer Parker and James Gerber Report: Sen. John McCain faced opposition both inside and outside a California campaign event designed to tout the presumptive GOP nominee’s energy plan.
During a roundtable discussion on energy security at Santa Barbara’s Natural History Museum, one of the panelists invited by the McCain campaign to sit onstage beside the candidate — disagreed with the Arizona senator’s energy plans and lambasted his nuclear energy proposal.
Watch the VIDEO HERE.
"I’m a little bit bemused that I ended up on this panel," said Michael Feeney, chair of the Santa Barbara Land Trust, a non-profit conservation group.
He excoriated a proposal McCain outlined last Wednesday to build 45 new nuclear plants in the United States by 2030 and another 55 in later years.
"I don’t understand how it’s not compromising our environmental standards to propose a crash program to build more nuclear power plants when the industry has not complied with the federal law that requires there to be safe disposal for the radioactive waste," Feeney said.
McCain responded by citing the example of nuclear technology in Europe and Navy ships powered by nuclear energy.
"My friend, the technology is there. The Europeans do it. I mean it’s safe. It’s being done. So, to think that that is going to require some pain on the American people economically when the Europeans– 80 percent of the French electricity is generated by nuclear power. They are doing fine," McCain said to applause from the audience.
"It’s not a technological breakthrough that needs to be taken," McCain said, "It’s a not-in-my-backyard problem, we have got to have the guts and courage, to go ahead and do what other countries are doing and they are reducing the pollution to our environment rather dramatically without any huge pain to anybody," McCain said.
"And I’d like to have you respond but the United States Navy has sailed ships around the world for 60 years with nuclear power plants on them, we have never had an accident, we have never had a problem. And I think the world is safer, the world is safer due to the presence of the United States navy with nuclear power ships on them," McCain said.
Feeney also highlighted McCain’s new-found support for U.S. off-shore oil drilling as a way to decrease domestic gas prices.
"It makes me nervous to think about those who are proposing to drain America’s off-shore oil and gas reserves as quickly as possible in the hopes of driving down the price of gasoline," Feeney said. "Were we to open up the California coast … it would be twelve, 15 maybe 20 years before those resources came online and got to full production. That’s not going to impact the price of gasoline any time soon."
Feeney expressed skepticism about McCain’s promise to find technological solutions to combat global warming, including his Monday promise that if elected, he would propose a $300 million prize for the development a car battery that weans America off oil.
"I’m a little less optimistic about technology solving all our problems," Feeney said, "I’m a little less optimistic, particularly the Congress, being able to put its arms around these issues in a productive way."
"You’re reflecting recent polling numbers my friend," McCain joked.
Feeney suggested McCain’s policies signaled a rolling back of environmental protections, and urged the presumptive Republican nominee to level with the American people about what’s needed to turn things around.
"I appreciate the spirit that you’re trying to promote, I hope that the Republicans and the Democrats can work together on a sensible energy policy, but I think we have to be very cautious about what I see as signs that we need to roll back environmental standards," Feeney said.
"I also think that I’d like to hear more national leaders telling the American people that there is going to be pain and disruption and adjustment to our way of life in this country to address these challenges. I think too rosy of a face is being put on it."
Outside McCain’s campaign event at the Santa Barbara about 100 protesters gathered, chanting "No new drilling!" and holding signs that read: "McCain: Some Nerve. Coming here to try to sell Earth-desecrating policies to us!!!"
Read more about the protest HERE.